It’s the only game in town

By Vanessa Wiltshire

THE stars — and the rain — descended on Heathcote on Sunday but spirits were not dampened.

Nor were crowd numbers, as more than 300 poeple flocked to Barrack Reserve for WorkSafe’s Game of the Month event.

Game of the Month is run in small towns and communities around the state.

It is delivered by Netball Victoria and AFL Victoria to promote country sport and safe workplaces.

Hosted by the Heathcote Football Netball Club and the Heathcote and District Football Netball League, the Colbinabbin Grasshoppers met the Heathcote Saints over three football matches and six netball games on Sunday.

A two-course luncheon was held for over 120 people, catered by the Heathcote Football Netball Club.

Attendees heard from four guest speakers including ex-AFL star and Carlton great Anthony Koutoufides, Geelong captain Joel Selwood, ex-Australian Diamonds and Melbourne Phoenix star Eloise Southby and Melbourne Vixens’ Mwai Kumwenda.

The executive director of health and safety at WorkSafe, Julie Neilsen, said that it was an honour to attend the event.

“This is my first Game of the Month event, I’m thrilled to be here. Community spirit is just so strong in Victoria,” she said.

“I would like to acknowledge families in the room or anyone who has been impacted by a workplace injury or fatality.”

While workplace injuries on farms are a problem in rural areas, Ms Neilsen acknowledged that the most significant area of concern is in mental health.

“Claims are growing year on year by 6%” she said.

“One in five Australians have taken time off work in the last 12 months because they are stressed or anxious.

“Fifty per cent of workers have left a job due to a workplace culture that wasn’t supportive.

“Mental injury claims are increasing. It’s time to work together to drive down these statistics.’’

Ms Neilsen said that the goal of the WorkSafe Game of the Month event was to bring communities together and focus on injury prevention.

“We know that country clubs and communities excel at taking care of each other.

“That’s a big key to improving culture in the workplace. Sporting groups can lead the way.

Ms Neilsen said that the key is to creating cultures where it’s OK to say, ‘I’m not OK.’”

“The more we talk about mental health, the more awareness and acceptance goes up,” she said.

‘‘Only then can we improve outcomes.’’

Over a delicious two-course meal of soup and traditional roasts, Anthony Koutoufides had the room in stitches as he recounted growing up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs with an Italian mother and Greek father.

“I’d drive my mum and dad to my football matches,” Anthony said. “When I suggested it was time that they started driving themselves, my mum just gave me that killer Italian stare. I was terrified and said, ‘It’s OK, I was just joking’.”

Melbourne Vixens’ Mwai Kumwenda had the audience transfixed as she described growing up in Malawi and the hardships she endured to attend school and play netball.

“I would walk two hours to school each way, barefoot,” Mwai said. “I would play netball on a dust court. We didn’t have proper balls, so we melted plastic bottles and played with them.”

Joel Selwood spoke humbly, and with passion, about the workplace culture at Geelong. “Leadership is about creating a foundation and building for success, even long after you’re gone,” he said.

2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Eloise Southby captured the imagination of the room with her passion for netball, which started at a young age.

“I focused really hard on the game and never lost that passion,” she said. But she has achieved balance. A mother of four, Eloise continues to coach at the elite level.

The president of the Heathcote Football Netball Club, Rebecca Dickinson, said the day was a ‘‘huge’’ success.

“There were four wins; our footy reserves and thirds and netball A reserve and B grade. Everyone did a fantastic job and are to be congratulated.

“It was wonderful to have Anthony, Joel, Mawi and Eloise attend the lunch, plus Julie Neilsen and our mayor, Margaret O’Rourke. I’d like to say thank you to them for coming such a long way.’’

“There was a lot of hard work and preparation that went in to the event and I’d like to thank everyone who was part of it.”

The secretary of the Colbinabbin Football Netball Club, Mark Turner, said that although the results were mixed, it was a great event.

“Heathcote made us work hard,” Mark said. “It was a hard game in the conditions and it did get the better of our reserves and thirds,

“But all our players came out injury free and we’re looking forward to a week off.

“I’d like to say congratulations, especially to Nick Knight (in his 100th game) and Lou Dupuy, who were named best players in both senior games.”